5/19/13 John about 20
Just like so many people trust in their own good works for salvation rather than in Jesus, others trust in their repentance. A young man named John fit this description. I had reached out to him in a sidewalk witnessing conversation. He had some church background and was well aware of his sins, but was absolutely certain he will go to heaven regardless, so I asked “If there is a heaven and hell, then obviously some people go to one or the other. What would be the difference between you and someone who has also sinned but will end up in hell?” John answered, “Well, I’m really, really sorry for my sins” as if being sorry could somehow remove his guilt. I explained to John that repentance in itself can’t save us. He should in fact be sorry, but just being sorry doesn’t satisfy God’s justice. If he could repent perfectly, never sinning again for the rest of his life, he would still be guilty of the sins he has already committed. This is an important point to make for people who believe they can “learn from their mistakes” and somehow attain salvation by “turning over a new leaf” in repentance. John’s church experiences had somehow left him with the impression that being a Christian just means being sorry and trying real hard to be good. How can we emphasize our need for repentance without leaving the impression that this is all there is to life in Christ? C.S. Lewis wrote that repentance “is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen.” We are to repent and believe the good news of forgiveness in Jesus, but I wonder if this is necessarily a two-step process. Our belief isn’t genuine if it doesn’t bring repentance, and our repentance can’t be genuine if it isn’t motivated by belief. As I talked to John further, I had a hard time identifying the repentance in his life, probably because he didn’t really have a real clear understanding of what to believe in. Like John the Baptist, we need to call people to repentance, but also like John the Baptist, we need to point the way to Jesus.